Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Musicals!

A new feature I'm hoping will catch on here at Insight into Entertainment is Monday Musicals. Nick over at Random Ramblings of a Demented Doorknob inspired the idea with his post about his life in musicals for the year 1986 when we both realized Little Shop of Horrors is still one of our favorite movies. I started working in musical theater when I was about 10 and participated in it (offstage only) through college. I have a decent collection of musicals on DVD (though TONS more on VHS) and rarely choose to watch them, though I love them all. I've now owned the Rogers and Hammerstein collection for several years and never watched them so here's my chance. I'll start this off with the movie that was my first movie on videocassette (Betamax rather than VHS, though). Oklahoma! is not my favorite musical ever, but it's easily the one I've see the most.

Like most musicals of the Rogers and Hammerstein genre, there's not a lot of story to go between the songs, but here goes. Curly (Gorden McRae) is a cowboy in Kansas before it was a state who has fallen for Laurie (Shirley Jones), but she's not sure what to do. There's a big dance coming to raise money to build a schoolhouse and Laurie agrees to go with her farm hand, Jud (Rod Steiger), rather than Curly, who takes her Aunt Eller. Before getting ready for the dance Laurie has a psychedelic dream about who she should marry (my least favorite part). Jud and Curly attempt to outbid each other for Laurie's picnic basket at the dance, with Curly coming out ahead and Laurie agrees to marry him (this IS a musical). However, Judd's pissed and attacks Curly at their wedding and dies. Very sad, but all's well that ends well. The B story is a friend of Laurie's, Ado Annie (I've never understood that name), is trying to decide whether she wants to marry cowboy Will who has nothing besides that he loves her, or traveling salesman Ali Hackim. Ultimately she picks Will but because he promises to love her, so again with the happy ending.

The most important part of Oklahoma! is the music. It opens with "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'", followed closely by "Surrey with a Fringe on top" (a common karaoke song - Harry and Sally fans know). As with most musicals, the first half is loaded with upbeat songs that might not exactly drive the story, but explain what's going on within the characters. Laurie dreams of a happy life with love, and nearly falls for Curly when he sings about taking her out in the luxury of the surrey. Later, Laurie sings to her girlfriends about how she won't complain when her man goes away or does something wrong ("Many a New Day") and then Laurie and Curly sing together about how people will gossip about them if they reveal their true feelings ("People Will Say We're in Love"). Curly also tries to manipulate (and foreshadow) Jud's life by telling him people really do like him and they'll prove it by attending his funeral ("Poor Jud"). The side story with Ado Annie has all the fun songs, "I cain't say no" (and she means it, the little hussy), "Kansas City" about Will's trip to the big city, and "All Er Nothin'" between Will and Ado Annie promising to love each other all the way. And of course the whole thing ends with the song "Oklahoma" which is totally how I still spell it in my head because they spell it during the song, and it's how I remember it. The only part I really don't like about the movie is Laurie's dream sequence. It starts out kind of happy, and ends really dramatically and scary, and it's about 10 solid minutes of interpretive dance without words or song. I've only seen Oklahoma on stage once and didn't really care for the actors taking on the parts of my beloved Shirley Jones and Gorden McRae, so I prefer to just watch this on TV when I feel the need. The new version on DVD is really crisp, both visually and audibly. I loved getting the chance to rewatch one of my favorites. Another thing I think suited a kid's attention span was the fact that the overture and entr'acte were both relatively short (under 3 minutes - for perspective, West Side Story's overture is nearly 15 minutes).


David Bishop said...

I think there's a TV version of Oklahoma starring Hugh Jackman as Curly. I've never seen a production on stage or on film. Would you recommend I see the 50's musical first or the Jackman one?

Jess said...

Hi David, Jackman's version is a filmed stage production rather than a movie, so I would stick with Gordon and Shirley for your first viewing. I remember seeing the Jackman version and his Curly is terrific, but the rest of the cast isn't as good as the movie, IMHO.